ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE PART 2: 10 Lepers, Only One Fully Healed
Gratitude may be difficult to define, but it may be easier to see it expressed in the wild. Common experience affords many opportunities of seeing exploitation and self-centered conceit. For example, a waiter is treated as nothing more than a robot to perform a task and if not performed perfectly, then yelling is the chosen reprogramming. Or a customer service agent is cursed at for not fixing a situation by making unicorns and fairy dust appear. While extreme ingratitude is easy to discern, how do we properly express our gratitude and anchor it in a secure manner? Let us explore both of these facets of gratitude in the scene of the ten Lepers in Luke 17:11–19.
In the biblical scene, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem and, on his way, stops at an unnamed village. As was common in the ancient world, the marginalized and outcast are often the first encounter in such places. While still outside of town, ten lepers begin to loudly cry out to Jesus. Their cry to Jesus presupposes dispositions of their heart and reveals their desires. Luke records in 17:13 that the ten men cry out to Jesus for mercy.
Let’s begin by looking at their presuppositions. First, they acknowledge the custom of keeping at a distance for the health and safety of Jesus and his disciples (v. 12). Leprosy is highly contagious, and the only known protection in the ancient world was distance and ostracization. Therefore, we learn these are not rebels trying to break all the rules; they are merely afflicted men. Second, Jesus has garnered enough attention and notoriety that these Lepers deem him worthy to cry out to. Additionally, they believe he has the authority and capability to show them mercy.
But what exactly are they asking of Jesus? It is easy for us to respond that being healed is the request. I certainly know that being healed would be at the top of my list of requests if I had leprosy. However, if the men only wanted physical wellness, they could have said, ‘heal us.’ By requesting mercy, the men indicate their deeper desires, namely the restoration of their whole lives to family, friends, and society. They cry out for a full restoration to all that they are kept from by having leprosy. In sum, their request is for something with physical, emotional, social, and sacred consequences.
In light of these presuppositions being true about Jesus and his willingness and ability to fulfill their desires, he sends them off to the local priests. Along the way they are healed, not by the power of walking or some fresh sunshine, but by the miraculous work of Jesus. Upon noticing they are healed even before arriving at the priest, one of the former-lepers returns to Jesus. He falls at his feet, no longer forced to keep his distance, and cries loudly in praise to God. We can break down the scene to see an attitude of gratitude juxtaposed with fixating on the gift.
While all ten are healed, their parting paths indicate different responses. The nine become fixated on the healing and the consequences thereof. They can return to family and society; they can return to life. They run off to that world without a look or shout over their shoulder back at Jesus. This is not to say they were not thankful. We should have no doubt they were. But it does display where their hopes lie, in the opportunities ahead and not with the giver behind. They got what they needed from Jesus, and his authority, ability, and willingness to show mercy are behind them physically and metaphorically.
Conversely, the one healed turns back. Indeed, he was equally excited to return to society, visit a family, and participate in the life of the city again. All of those things combined did not have enough of a draw to make him forget who made it possible and to whom he should give gratitude. Thus, the healed man returns to Jesus, postponing the enjoyment of the newfound earthly life. In his return, we see two things. First, the man has gratitude to the giver and not merely thanks for the gift. Gratitude includes emotional thankfulness, but it also includes an intellectual understanding that enables him to draw near, bow down, and praise God.
Second, in his return to the feet of Jesus, we find there are greater blessings than physical healing.
In the last section of the healing episode, vv. 17–19, Jesus responds to the man who, now healed, comes to praise God at the feet of Jesus. Jesus first makes what can only be taken as a chastisement concerning the nine who have not expressed proper gratitude for their well-being. Jesus then makes the provocative declaration that is more powerful than healing. In v. 19, Jesus says to rise and go on about his life, for the faith the man displays has saved him (καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ἀναστὰς πορεύου ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε). We should not downplay the reality of what Jesus declares. Previous Jesus made the flesh of men well, but now he says this one is saved by faith.
The means of salvation is turning to Jesus in faith. To be clear, gratitude is not the means of salvation. However, it was the act of gratitude that worked out and gave birth to faith in action. The response of gratitude displayed the man’s view of Jesus has changed since the beginning of the interaction. In v. 12, the men view Jesus as one who has authority and ability to heal their flesh and restore their earthly lives. But now, this healed man understands that Jesus is worthy of far more. The attraction of returning to the common life is subservient and postponed until he can worship at the feet of Jesus. The man has faith in Jesus to be more than a miracle worker. Jesus has become to him a life-giver.
Are we like the nine who turn to Jesus when we want something? Is Jesus your lucky charm and nothing more?
When we get what we want, do we reveal in the gift and forget the giver? Or do we return to Jesus’ feet in faith and praise?
Do we seek eternal life from Christ or momentary relief? While all the men would someday get sick again and one day die, we know the fully healed man began enjoying salvation there at the feet of Jesus.
 Levitical priestly codes about purity mention leprosy many times, see especially Lev 13. We find in Num 5:2, that such unclean were kept outside of camp.